England v South Africa, NatWest Series, The Oval
Vikram Solanki finally arrived as an international batsman with his innings of 106 against South Africa at The Oval. It has been a long and sometimes tortuous journey, but this innings showed that he has a place in England's long-term plans and, more importantly, demonstrated the class of his batting to a wider audience.
It was so important for England that he should have taken this opportunity to come good for, without Michael Vaughan in the side, England's batting line-up appeared alarmingly fragile. The longer Solanki could keep Marcus Trescothick company, the better were England's chances of overhauling that South African total of 264 for 6 in their 50 overs.
Solanki did more than play the supporting role: he stole the show. There were ten scorching fours in his first fifty. That came at a run a ball, as did his second fifty and, for once, it was England's acting captain who was going along in his young partner's slipstream. Solanki is still young - 27 years old - despite the fact that he made his county one-day debut a decade ago.
It is said that opening partnerships work best when the individuals offer different problems to the bowlers. South Africa's bowlers could not face any differing styles than with this England pair - Trescothick, left-handed, standing tall in his thumping shots; Solanki, right-handed and with a style of play that owes everything to his Asian origins rather than to his English upbringing.
It was in Bulawayo that Solanki's journey to this particular pinnacle began. It was on an England A tour, when he had previously had little chance to shine and had become something of a peripheral player, that he suddenly came to the fore. Batting at No. 6, he played a good innings of 65 in the second A `Test' against Zimbabwe. Then, when his side were in trouble in a one-dayer against Zimbabwe A, he scored an outstanding 70, displaying the full charm and range of the great wristy Indian strokeplayers.
At that time, Solanki appeared to be the most exciting talent to emerge in English cricket since the young David Gower. Several players can score a lot of runs in a visit to the crease, but few can demand drooling admiration for an innings. Solanki is one of them and what excited the handful of people present in Bulawayo in 1998 has now been seen by thousands.
The Wisden Bulletin: Solanki and Trescothick hundreds sink South Africa